After decades in Milton-Freewater Head Start gets a home

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Milton-Freewater’s Head Start and WIC employees set out bright rugs and arranged desks Wednesday. On a new street atop Milton-Freewater’s southern hill, they were settling into their $1.5 million building.

For over two decades, Head Start and WIC rented out pockets of space wherever they could in town. That included a beauty salon, lawyer’s office and tire store along with schools and churches. Sometimes the two entities under Umatilla-Morrow Head Start shared a location, often they didn’t.

UMHS executive director Cathy Wamsley said she was grateful to those who opened their doors — the school district did so for free — but WIC and Head Start needed a space to settle down.

“The children in our community deserve a space that is aesthetically pleasing and developmentally appropriate,” Head Start program manager Sandy Snook said.

Under the terms of a $1 million state grant secured by Umatilla County in 2009, the county must own the building for five years before handing it over to UMHS. But, Wamsley said, the facility is under the organization’s control from day one.

The 5,000-square-foot facility was in people’s minds years before the 2009 grant. Dan Daltoso, UMHS associate director of operations, then spent a few more years compiling $500,000 in smaller grants.

Located at 1850 Key Boulevard, the place has two massive classrooms surrounded by windows that reach down to a young child’s height. There are also facilities and equipment for medical checkups.

Head Start’s previous Milton-Freewater headquarters were divided in two, split between the Oregon Child Development Coalition and Grove Elementary School. At WIC’s last location on Main Street, the clients used the nearby sandwich shop for a restroom.

Now, they have a better-designed, long-term facility.

“It’s nice to know we’re secure,” said Mary York, a full-day Head Start teacher. “We don’t have to pack up and move anytime soon.”

The WIC clinic has already opened its doors to clients. Head Start, which began moving in Wednesday, will begin classes on Nov. 4.

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